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Supporters of London's Garden Bridge and New York's Pier 55 vow to keep Heatherwick projects alive

Two major proposed projects from the pen of British designer Thomas Heatherwick have suffered significant setbacks, and now supporters of Pier 55 in New York and the Garden Bridge in London are fighting to keep them afloat.

A United States District Court ruled in late March that Heatherwick Studio’s vision for Pier 55 – a 1.1 hectare (2.7 acre) park suspended above the Hudson River – would interfere with the obligation of the trust in charge of the river to maintain the Hudson as a fish and wildlife refuge.

According to US media reports, Judge Lorna G. Schofield also argued that as a park and concert venue, the Pier 55 project is not dependent on the Hudson River for its existence and could be located elsewhere.

The project, which has drawn praise as well as criticism from some quarters, has been largely bankrolled by fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg and financier Barry Diller. It has survived previous legal challenges from New York’s City Club, who brought the latest case against it, and had previously look set to proceed.

Michael Gruen, president of the City Club, told The Architect’s Newspaper: “It looks like this ruling may be very beneficial for the public in terms of finally being done with a project that would obscure the view of the water and could very well go somewhere else.”

However, in its own statement to the newspaper, the Hudson River Park Trust said: “We have won four challenges in four courts on this project. Not one of those decisions determined the proposed project would harm the environment, and neither does this one.

“But even if largely procedural, we are deeply disappointed by this ruling, and are reviewing it carefully to determine our next steps.”

The Garden Bridge

Meanwhile, the trust developing Heatherwick Studio’s much-debated design for a verdant garden crossing across London’s River Thames is also facing an uphill battle, following the publication of a report by Dame Margaret Hodge MP assessing whether value for money has been secured from the public sector contribution to the project.

The report found that:

• Decisions on the Garden Bridge were driven more by electoral cycles than value for taxpayers’ money.

• The costs have escalated from an early estimate of £60m to over £200m today.

• The risk to the taxpayer has intensified. The original ambition to fund the Garden Bridge through private finance has been abandoned. The Garden Bridge Trust has lost two major private donors and has pledges of £69m with no new pledges secured since August 2016. With a public sector contribution of £60m, that leaves a gap in capital funding of at least £70m. Furthermore, very little progress has been made on raising money to fund the ongoing maintenance of a completed bridge.

• There was not an open, fair and competitive process around the two TfL procurements for the Garden Bridge Project. The two procurements revealed systemic failures and ineffective control systems at many levels.

• The Garden Bridge Trust’s finances are in a precarious state and many outstanding risks remain unresolved.

“I did not seek to ask whether the concept of a garden bridge over the River Thames is a good idea,” said Hodge, who is the former chair of the UK’s Public Accounts Committee. “But my review has found that too many things went wrong in the development and implementation of the Garden Bridge Project.

“Value for money for the taxpayer has not been secured. It would be better for the taxpayer to accept the financial loss of cancelling the project than to risk the potential uncertain additional costs to the public purse if the project proceeds.

“In the present climate, with continuing pressures on public spending, it is difficult to justify further public investment in the Garden Bridge.

“I would urge the mayor not to sign any guarantees until it is confirmed that the private capital and revenue monies have been secured by the Garden Bridge Trust.”

In reply, Lord Mervyn Davies, chair of the Trust, said: “We are pleased that Dame Margaret has finally published her report after six months of uncertainty. We will be studying the report in detail and seeking a meeting with the Mayor to discuss next steps.

“The Trust remains as determined as ever to make the Garden Bridge happen which will bring huge benefits to London and the UK.”

According to Construction News, the Trust plans to present a revised business plan to London mayor Sadiq Khan, who ordered the review, in the next few days to allay concerns that taxpayer’s money is at risk.

Speaking to the BBC last year, Heatherwick offered an impassioned defence of the project, arguing that it has been used as a political football by “people with an agenda” and those “who love to sneer.”

“It’s an amazing project,” he said. “How can it possibly be a bad thing to stitch the city together better, to create new public space that we have never had before, to create new views for all of us?”

In better news for the designer, his conversion of a Cape Town grain storage facility into a luxury hotel was completed last month, while 'Vessel', his eye-catching honeycomb-like structure formed of 154 interconnecting flights of stairs is set to be constructed in New York.

Thomas Heatherwick  Garden Bridge  Pier 55  architecture  design 
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FEATURE: Movers & Shakers – Thomas Heatherwick

Two major proposed projects from the pen of British designer Thomas Heatherwick have suffered significant setbacks, and now supporters of Pier 55 in New York and the Garden Bridge in London are fighting to keep them afloat. A United States District Court ruled in late March that Heatherwick Studio’s vision for Pier 55 – a 1.1 hectare (2.7 acre) park suspended above the Hudson River – would interfere with the
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The Garden Bridge Trust are set to meet London mayor Sadiq Khan / Garden Bridge Trust
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